Nathan Bashaw

Building a new kind of electronic book. Previously helped build General Assembly and ProductHunt!

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON December 18, 2015


Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
I've gotta admit, this is a little surreal for me. Two years ago, I built this little app over Thanksgiving break with my friend Ryan, and it's turned into something more amazing than I ever could have imagined. (I wrote a little more about how that went here). Since then, Ryan and the whole PH team have done an incredible job growing this community and building a powerful platform to support it. I'm damn proud to have played a small part in the early days. The thing is, it was never really my plan to work on Product Hunt. Just a super happy/lucky accident. I've always been interested in books and reading, and wanted to build something in that space. For example, here's an embarrassing blog post I wrote when I was in college and none of my book startups ideas were working. So, this summer I left my job at General Assembly (where I learned a ton and built stuff I am proud of, especially Dash) and set out to try and make a new kind of electronic book. One that doesn't feel like a digital copy of a paper thing, but actually is designed for your phone. The goal isn't just to make reading better on a phone, it's to give us the superpower of absorbing information more efficiently and becoming better humans. We're just getting started. Anyway, I'm incredibly pumped to be here with you right now. It's surreal. Edit: ok, gotta run now! I'll answer any remaining questions later tonight. This has been awesome, thank you all for the great questions!
Blake Robbins@blakeir · VC at Ludlow Ventures
Hey Nathan! I've had the honor of working closely with you over the past few years and have seen your amazing work ethic first-hand. I'm just curious, what tips and advice do you have to aspiring product people? You come from a non-technical background, so I've always been extremely inspired by your ability to hack beautiful products/services together.
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@blakeir Thanks so much, Blake :) My biggest piece of advice for getting more technical would be to not limit yourself by thinking "I'm not a coder". You can learn to hack simple things just as easily as you can learn to play guitar. I think too many people make it a matter of identity that you either ARE a coder or you ARE something else. Don't think about what you are. Just do cool shit :) My overall advice? Get in an environment where you can learn and where you are supported and given a lot of freedom. Build a ton of side projects. Find mentors and champions that are going to support you no matter what. It's all stuff I'm sure we've heard before :) Easy to nod your head to, hard to actually do.
Brian Donohue@bthdonohue · CEO, Instapaper
Hi Nathan, Would you rather fight 1 horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses? Thanks, Brian
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@bthdonohue 1 horse-sized duck, duh think david v goliath
Jordan Carlisle@jordantcarlisle
@nbashaw - I bet most people don't know you're from Arkansas. There are many famous technologists from Arkansas - Dan Fredinburg, Brad Feld, Taylor Otwell, Charles Morgan, Christian Rudder, John Allison, you - and a few infamous technologists - Jed McCaleb, Weev, Cody Wilson. Despite public perception, all or these people are innovators. I'm someone who left Arkansas and came back to build a community and a startup. So, what major components of our larger communities, like Little Rock or NW AR, need to change in order to keep the folks building cool stuff here?
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@jordantcarlisle that's a great question, and I wish I had a better answer! Honestly, I don't know a ton about the Arkansas startup scene. I'd love to chat sometime so I can learn more! That being said, I have spent a lot of time talkig to people in the Michigan startup community (that's where I went to college and first got into startups), and I imagine there are probably some similar challenges. It's really tough. The key seems to be creating a few successful companies that support the ecosystem and produce/attract talented people, but when you're in Arkansas or Michigan and trying to build something new, it seems like the deck is stacked against you in some ways. So the first wave of founders tends to be the type of person who has spent time in SV or NY and come back home. I guess the main advice I'd have for anyone in a smaller startup market is to focus on your company. It's easy to get distracted by doing a lot of community stuff, but ultimately the thing that will help your community the most is having another big success.
Jordan Carlisle@jordantcarlisle
Thanks @nbashaw! Those are wise words I wholly agree with. I know we conversed via twitter earlier this year, so I definitely think we're long overdue for a more in-depth chat. What's the best way for us to get that on the books?
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@jordantcarlisle yes! lets definitely chat soon
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Nathan! You're an avid reader. What's the book that's had the biggest impact on your life? Bonus question: what's your favorite emoji? 💃
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@rrhoover Man that's a really hard question. I don't know if I could name just one. Ok, so this book isn't actually even that good of a book, but it probably had the biggest impact: I read it for class, freshman year of college. At that point in time I thought I wanted to be philosophy professor or something like that, and I didn't have the greatest outlook on the world. Cyropaedia for some reason shook me up, and made me want to build valuable things, rather than just appear to be a really deep/smart guy. That, and Paul Graham's essays, are how I eventually got interested in startups. So even though the book is kinda boring, it probably was the one to have the biggest impact on my life. Favorite emoji is obviously 😘
Geoffrey Weg@geoffreyweg · Betaworks, TechStars, White House
Hey @nbashaw! - What are some of your favorite books? (rumor has it you're quite the book junky) - Which entrepreneurs and businesses do you admire? What are they doing right?
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@geoffreyweg I am very prepared for this moment! Here's a list of my favorites: I've never met any of these folks, but based on what they write, I really admire @ev @paulg @pmarca and @patrickc. I really appreciate people who seem thoughtful and earnest. There are a lot of people out there like that, but for some reason these stand out to me.
@nbashaw What was your inspiration for the "Bashaw Pane”, and have you seen the design choice successfully used in any other products?
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@larry_lawal I remember designing the first product hunt site, and really worrying that nobody would bother to read the comments or participate in the discussion. So I wanted to make it as easy as possible, and a page load felt too heavy. So the "bashaw pane" was basically just a way to lower the mental friction to check out the comments. As for other sites, I think lots do it well! No single one jumps out at me though.
Noah Buscher@nhbschr · 18 / lincoln / 🏳️‍🌈
As many know, you left Product Hunt after a short while to pursue another job... Do you ever look back and question your choice, considering PH's success?
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@nhbschr That's a great question - it's definitely been weird at times, but I haven't regretted it yet, and I don't think I will. Also, just to clarify, I was never full-time at Product Hunt. It was just a side project that I decided not to go full-time on. Anyway, how does it feel? It's kinda like if you and your girlfriend amicably parted ways, and then she got super famous. You're extremely proud and happy for her, but it's also hard to move on when she's "around" all the time, if that makes sense, hahah. I decided to leave because ultimately I knew working on Product Hunt would be a detour for me. My passion for a really long time has been in creating new forms of media to help people get absorbed in stories and ideas. I know that, no matter what else happens, even if the entire thing fails, I'll be proud of giving it a shot. It's a special feeling and I don't want to lose it. I can't say I feel the same way about Product Hunt, or honestly anything else. External recognition feels good in the moment, but it's ultimately not satisfying.
Yoshi@dnxx28 · Freerance Engineer
Hi Nathan! I'm Japanese Yoshi. I understand you made "" . How long did take as development period? I want similar things too!
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@dnxx28 Hey! It took about a year from start till launch. We went through a *ton* of revisions, and were getting feedback the whole time from a really supportive community of early users.
Jeff Needles@jsneedles · Data @ Houseparty & Maker of Things
@nbashaw - Would you be excited to still be a part of PH? Also, what's your favorite board game?
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@jsneedles Am I excited about Product Hunt as a company and community? Absolutely. Is it a good fit for me at this stage in my life? Probably not. I get so much energy from working on Hardbound, it just feels really right. I can't imagine working on anything else right now, to be honest. As for favorite board game, definitely Puerto Rico. Props to Brad Hargreaves for introducing that to me :) haha
Joe Fabisevich ™@mergesort · Founder at Picks (
Hey Nathan! I just wanted to say hi, cause I figured you may get a lot of questions and it might be nice to see just a warm hello. 👋
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@mergesort howdy :) Thanks for joining, and for all the feedback you've given me over the past few months! It's awesome to be internet friends :)
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Hey Nathan! What other ideas were you considering?
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@eriktorenberg Yo! Everything else I thought of was some variant on the same long-term idea: in the future, authors will create stories directly for the phone, rather than just using phones as a distribution channel for digitized paper books. We thought about a bunch of different implications for this and ways to approach it, but that key insight is the thing that's motivated me for years now.
@nbashaw @eriktorenberg I've been writing more and more on my mobile and simple functions like undo, highlighting, annotations, etc across apps is missing. The functionality of highlighting a word and displaying the definition seems obviously needed & inevitable.
Daryna Kulya@darynakulya · Co-Founder @ OpenPhone | Product Hunt TO
Hi Nathan! What advice do you give most often to other makers? What's something you wish you learned about product development earlier in your career? What is the worst piece of advice you've ever gotten? Thanks :)
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@darynakulya Best advice: make stuff quickly, watch people use it (in person!), talk to them about it, iterate, repeat. Worst advice: haha honestly i'm stumped. Really anything that distracts you from working stuff you're passionate about, in favor of working on something that will make you look cool to other people.
Lachlan Campbell@lachlanjc · Hack Club design/JS—HS 🎓—they/them—🌈
@nbashaw It's awesome you're doing a LIVE chat! What's been the most challenging part of starting your own business/project this year?
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@lachlanjc Managing your own psychology - it's so easy to make stupid decisions because you're afraid, or to fool yourself into thinking you're not afraid. Everyone is afraid. Best decision was to have weekly phone calls with a mentor who can help me stay sane.
Russ Frushtick@russfrushtick
Any hidden talents we should know about?
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@russfrushtick I was an Arkansas High School debate finalist
Vinish Garg@vingar · Co-founder @mystippi @ContentHug
@nbashaw, I have my idea validated (a free product) and early users are *hooked* now. How do I prepare users when i introduce new and paid features now? I know communicating the value and ROI; however, changing from Freemium to Paid seems jittery for some users. Directions?
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@vingar Honestly, I'd probably grandfather the old people in and let them keep using it for free for a little while. You don't wanna pull the rug out from underneath someone. But I've not dealt with a situation like that before, so I'd probably ask other people for advice haha
How many people are on the Hardbound team? Are the other team members friends/people you've known from the past, or did you bring people on-board that you've never worked with in the past? How do you go about finding co-founders/team members and in your opinion, what is the 1-2 key things you look for?
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@jkent2910 Myself and @oneyenjug are the co-founders of Hardbound, and we're the only two full-time on it now. Joe and I worked together at General Assembly, and we hit it off immediately. I knew I'd want to work with him for a long time from the start. The key thing is to be committed, and intellectually flexible.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
Hey! Great meeting up in NYC recently - awesome to see what you have been working on recently... What spurred your love for books? Why is the book industry so compelling to you that you want to be involved there?
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@bentossell It was awesome to meet up! I love books because they make us more curious, loving, and brave. But it's really hard to read a whole book on your phone. What if authors put as much energy into creating original stories and ideas that are made for our phones as they currently do for paper? I think we could unlock new levels of human creativity, empathy, and courage.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@nbashaw of your achievements so far, what are you most proud of?
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@ems_hodge Definitely building Dash, which has taught over 300,000 people how to code. It's two years old and still the best way to learn how to make websites for people with no technical background. I've gotten emails from finance dudes on wall street, grandmas in argentina, students in south africa, and moms who's kids ask to trade their weekly "minecraft time" for more "dash time". It's just really heartwarming to feel like you directly added value to people's lives, and to see your hard work mean something to other people.
Wilbert Liu@wilbertliu · I ❤️ building products & telling 📃.
@nbashaw Just wanna take time to thank you for building Dash. It has taught my wife doing Rails back then, it's awesome and precious! Keep building, inspiring, and change people's live! 🙃
Alexandre Chainer@a_chainer · Co-founder @Wordzit. NewTech & Languages
Hi Nathan, congrats for what you've already done, quite impressive! Not sure I understand exactly what your creating, can you tell us more about it? Will your app/product allow add-on? I'm currently launching an instant translation extension so that when you're reading a page in a foreign language, the words you don’t know are instantly translated (and added to your profile on our website, to learn them, exchange your voc lists with anyone you want, etc). It is not possible with e-book readers yet, how do you see that?
Nathan Bashaw@nbashaw · Head of Product at Gimlet Media
@a_chainer Hey! We're not ready to share too many details about Hardbound yet, but that idea sounds pretty cool!